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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000034.txt from 2000/09

From: (William Wright)
Subj: Re: [kl] Language vs. music (was Phrasing With the Harmony)
Date: Sat, 2 Sep 2000 19:04:57 -0400

<><> Stewart=A0Kiritz wrote:
the defining characteristics of a language include grammar and
representation or semantics, i.e, meaning. For the most part, animal
cries are very primitive languages, if they are languages at all.

I agree. But the question that I was trying to phrase is: Are
music and language so completely divorced from one another that they
cannot be discussed as two tracks that share some ideas in common (see
below) and then diverge from each other? Is it productive or
counterproductive to ask: "Music is an interesting topic, and so is
language, but they aren't related to each other. Which topic would you
like to discuss today?"

<><> Again, with few possible exceptions, music does not have
shared meaning or representational power, nor does it have a grammar in
the exact sense that English does.

In life as we know it now, music does not have these things. But
the question is: why not? Is it because music is built from an
entirely different part of our cognition? Or is it more useful to
notice that chord progressions and keys and 'the tonic' and chords are
(perhaps?) a version of grammar and syntax and vocabulary that is built
from smaller units. Do these constructions spring from completely
different neural structures than 'language constructions' do?


Stewart, since you are a professional psychologist (I certainly am
not), have you read "Descartes' Error"? If you have, I would be very
interested to hear your opinion of the ideas that it advocates --
commonalities of emotion, non-language comunication (such as music
certainly is), rationality and so forth. We think with our feelings,
and perceive with our intellect, and so forth.


<><> For me it is still quite interesting that music can be said
to be expressive and/or have meaning. Certainly this meaning is
different from the universality of the meaning of most words or

Whoah, caution is recommended here! Certainly language comes
closer to being non-ambiguous and universal than music does. But
neither medium is context-free, nor does either medium have exactly the
same meaning for any two people. Just think about the unintentional
misunderstandings that arise here on the Internet.

<><> The meaning of the sentence "Most Spaniards speak Spanish,"
is not subject to a lot of debate.

Are you saying that most people of Spanish birth speak Spanish? Or
do you mean only that most current Spanish citizens speak Spanish? Or
do you mean that if I'm a Spaniard at heart, regardless of my birthplace
or current citizenship, then most likely I speak Spanish?
If you and I had opposing views about what it takes to be a 'real
Spaniard', we could derive completely different meanings from the
sentence above.
Once again, I agree that language is less ambiguous than music.
"Spanish" does not mean "artichoke" by any stretch of the imagination.
But the fact that language and music have different levels of ambiguity
does not necessarily mean that they spring from different roots. It may
be that they occupy different positions on, or have taken different
branches of, the same tree of evolution.
Once again, if you have read Descartes' Error, I would enjoy
hearing your opinion of it.

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